Reading Your Own Obituary

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

What if you clicked open your news feed one morning and saw your name there . . .

. . . followed by your own obituary.

You might pinch yourself to make sure you hadn’t died without knowing it. And then you’d probably keep reading to see what had been written about your life.

What if you didn’t like what it said?

This actually happened to Dr. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.

He opened his newspaper one morning, and there it was—the announcement of his death. (His brother was really the one who died: the newspaper mixed them up.)

This is what he read:

“The merchant of death is dead.” “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”*

The article condemned Nobel for creating military explosives. This was not the way he wanted people to remember him. He had over 350 patents—for a lot of different things. True, many of them were used in firearms and warfare, but many improved safety and efficiency in the mining industry. And many were used in other industries too. He didn’t see himself as an instrument of death or as a warmonger. He actually thought his most famous invention could help prevent wars.

 “My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions. As soon as men will find that in one instant, whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace.”
– Dr. Alfred Nobel

Apparently the public viewed his life’s work very differently than he did.

Nobel lived another seven years, and during that time he considered how he could change his legacy.

Just one year before his death, he wrote a new will—leaving most of his fortune (about $250 million in today’s economy) to create a series of cash prizes. These prizes would go to people whose accomplishments yield the “greatest benefit on mankind” in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.

I can’t help but believe the mix-up over the obituaries was divinely inspired. As a result of this mistake, people who devote their lives to improving the lives of others are recognized and rewarded, and a brilliant man’s name lives on. In fact, the name Nobel has become synonymous with humanitarianism.

It makes me wonder: if we could read our obituaries today, would we like what they said about us? Or would we spend the rest of our time here on earth trying to reshape them?

Maybe we should write them ourselves,

filling them with glowing descriptions of how much we’ve done for others . . . and what a positive legacy we’ve left behind.

And then do our best to make those words come true.  

*Although it is true that Dr. Nobel’s obituary was printed in place of his brother’s, the original newspaper was never found, so the above wording may or may not be factual.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels


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